Global Heroes

“It’s awful that there is so much suffering in the world, but there is very little I can do about it.” Have you ever had that thought? Most of us have. But fortunately not everyone leaves it at that. Every year the international news broadcaster CNN selects a “Hero of the Year” – someone who, through a personal commitment to help others, has succeeded in changing the world for the better. In the following you are going to read about five people who have been nominated as CNN Heroes.

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Derreck Kayonga – Recycling hotel soap to save lives

When a young Ugandan arrived in the USA in the 1990s and stayed at a hotel in Philadelphia, he noticed something extraordinary. Every day the soap in his room was replaced with a new one and the old one was thrown way. For a man who had seen poverty first hand it was unbelievable, and the discovery got him thinking. More than a million children die each year due to diseases caused by people not being able to wash their hands effectively. “The issue is not the availability of soap,” Derreck says, “the issue is cost. Make $1 a day, and soap costs 25 cents.” Derreck’s Atlanta-based Global Soap Project collects used hotel soap, cleans and reprocesses it and sends the recycled soap to poor nations like Haiti, Uganda, Kenya and Swaziland. So far Derreck and his project have delivered more than 100,000 bars of soap to countries where clean hands save lives. “As an immigrant and a new citizen to this country, I feel very blessed to be here,” Derreck says. “But it’s important that we don’t forget what we can do to help people back at home.”


Anuradha Koirala - Rescuing girls from sex slavery in Nepal

Sex trafficking of women and young girls has long been a problem in Nepal. Families in villages are tricked into sending their daughters away to India, imagining that they will be getting good jobs. Instead they are sold to brothels where, in addition to selling sex, they are often beaten. It was 61-year-old Anuradha Koirala’s own experiences of an abusive relationship that led her to set up Maiti Nepal, an organisation fighting for more than 16 years to rescue and rehabilitate Nepal’s victims of sex trafficking. “When girls first come to Maiti Nepal,” says Anuradha, “we never, never ask them a question. We just let them be for as long as they need.” “Maiti” means more or less “mother home” and almost 400 women and children are accommodated at Maiti Nepal’s centre in Kathmandu, which is funded by donations from around the world. Here they are provided with medical treatment and counselling, as well as work training, with the aim of reintegrating them into society.  “Anuradha is a hero … She’s courageous,” says Geeta, one of the group’s success stories. “She gave me my faith back. If Maiti Nepal wasn’t there for me, I would be dead by now.”


Amy Stokes – Providing a family in South Africa

In 2003 Amy Stokes visited South Africa and witnessed how HIV/Aids had resulted in millions of children being left without parents. “[With] so many children and so few adults to help them grow up, I knew I had we had to find a way to bring … the caring, nurturing effect of adults into their lives.” Her answer was to create “Infinite Family,” a web based technology that has so far connected almost 300 South African teens – called Net Buddies – with nearly 200 volunteer mentors from around the world. They meet face-to-face on the Ezomndeni-net. In Zulu “Ezomndeni means ‘everything related to family’. Our platform is a virtual world … A relationship starts between one person here and one person there, and then that relationship expands,” says Stokes, 44, a resident of Yonkers, New York. “The mentors know that all they have to offer is themselves,” she adds. “We like to say, ‘The gift is you.’ ... It's a bite-sized opportunity to change a world.”


Patrice Millet – Finding hope on the soccer fields of Haiti

When Haitian businessman Patrice Millet was diagnosed with bone cancer, his life changed completely – but not as you might expect. Returning to Haiti after nine months of treatment, Patrice decided life was too short to postpone his dream of doing something for the children of his country. He sold his business and started a foundation devoted to helping children from the slums to stay out of trouble and develop life skills – through soccer. “In soccer… you need to give, to receive, you need team spirit, discipline, sportsmanship,” says Patrice. “It’s not all about soccer, it’s about life.” Training, equipment, shoes, uniforms, transportation – everything is provided for free. Before the catastrophic earthquake in 2010 more than 600 children were involved in Patrice’s programme. Since the quake, two of the three football fields have become tent cities, and only 200 players remain. But Patrice believes that the difficult times have only increased the need for his work. In 2009 Patrice’s cancer returned and he is again undergoing treatment. But his motivation is undimmed. “I am not ready to die yet,” he says. “I have many, many things to do.”


Aki Ra – clearing the mines he set decades ago

Aki Ra from Cambodia is living proof that it is possible to turn your life around. He was once a child soldier for the notorious Khmer Rouge regime that has been held responsible for war crimes that cost an estimated 1.5 million Cambodians their lives during the 1970s. One of his jobs was to plant land mines. “I maybe planted 4,000 to 5,000 land mines in a single month,” says Aki Ra. “We planted them all over the place.” When peace was restored to Cambodia in the 1990s, Aki Ra saw an opportunity to undo some of the damage he had done. In the beginning he cleared mines without any equipment apart from a knife. Later he received formal training and began his own non-profit mine-clearing organisation comprised of native Cambodians, including former soldiers and war crime victims. Aki Ra focuses on the remote villages that often don’t receive funding for mine clearance projects. There’s enough work to do: “Villagers report land mines every day,” says Aki Ra. A decade ago he and his wife also founded an orphanage where many of the children are land mine victims. When Aki Ra’s wife died recently, he found himself responsible for 27 orphans as well as his own three children. “All the children in my centre I consider as my own,” he says. “They call me father.”




Sort these five people into two groups:

  • those whose projects grew out of difficulties in their own past
  • those whose projects grew out of a sudden recent experience

Now sort them into these two groups:

  • those directed at helping all age groups
  • those directed at helping one particular age group



Work in groups:

  1. Of the five people above, which one do you think has the strongest claim to be CNN Hero of the Year? Explain your reasons.
  2. Why do you think some people are motivated to become “heroes”, while most of us are not?
  3. If you had $100,000, which of the charities mentioned in this article would you give it to? Why? Explain your reason to a fellow pupil and listen to theirs.
  4. “In our society we idolise the wrong qualities and the wrong people.” What do you think is meant by this statement?
  5. “Charity begins at home.” What do you think is meant by this old saying? Do you agree with it?